The Future of eLearning

Jill W.

Remember when eLearning was called computer-based training? You'd read a wall of text, click next and move on to another wall of text. Let's click next on eLearning as a whole and take a look at the future.

eLearning Trends

The first thing I noticed when trying to compile a list of the big trends in eLearning is that this list looks a lot like last year's and that of the year before. After looking a little deeper, I realized that the new development isn't the items on the list; it's how those items are maturing and coalescing into a coherent vision of a prospective learning ecosystem.

Nonetheless, the list remains a good place to start. Here's my list of the top ten eLearning trends, in no particular order:

  1. mLearning (also known as mobile learning)
  2. Microlearning
  3. Personalized and Adaptive Learning
  4. Gamification
  5. Game-Based Learning
  6. Video
  7. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR)
  8. Social and Collaborative Learning
  9. Content Curation
  10. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In the next section, I'll take a closer look at each of these items and how they interact.

Top Ten eLearning Trends

1. mLearning

Mobile learning is just what it sounds like. It's any training, education materials or learning support delivered on a mobile device. Since no one's likely to work straight through an hour-long course on their phone, mLearning is usually microlearning.

mLearning has several advantages. Modern learners generally have their phone on hand, and it's where they turn for answers. Phones are easy to access in those odd moments that are all many learners have to dedicate to training. According to Cindy Pascale at eLearning Industry, mLearning also has a good retention rate: "research shows that mobile learning has higher completion rates than standard eLearning courses, and they complete the courses in less time".

2. Microlearning

Microlearning is learning delivered in short, focused segments. 'Short' can mean anything from two minutes to 15 minutes, depending on who you ask. It works well in this era of decreasing attention spans and is an effective way to provide the quick answers many learners are seeking. It's less effective at delivering complex information, leaving an important role for longer, more involved eLearning formats.

3. Personalized and Adaptive Learning

Personalized learning is learning that is customized according to each learner's preferences, interests, needs or abilities.

"Personalized learning improves a learner's ability to retain information, increases engagement, and motivates a student to master tough concepts. When learning is tailored to an individual's strengths and is focused on his or her success, the learner is more likely to actively engage in his or her education."

Adaptive learning is a type of personalized learning in which learners are assessed in some manner and a personalized learning path is created that takes into account the learner's strengths, weaknesses and prior knowledge or skill.

Adaptive learning has the potential to save considerable learner time and energy by minimizing and targeting the learning material that must be completed. However, that savings currently comes at the cost of more time and effort required on the development end. AI may make adaptive learning more feasible by taking over the role of assessing learners and identifying appropriate learning paths.

4. Gamification

Gamification means applying game mechanics or features such as points, leaderboards and badges to non-game activities. In eLearning, it often involves awarding points for completing traditional learning activities. Gamification serves to enhance motivation when applied to any form of eLearning.

5. Game-Based Learning

Game-based learning is learning that occurs while playing a game. One of its most valuable applications for learning is the scenario game, which gives learners the opportunity to practice high-risk or complex skills like decision making in a safe environment. Technological developments like interactive video, VR, AR and MR are extending the opportunities of game-based learning.

6. Video

Videos have been around since the beginning of eLearning. The combined audio and visual aspects of video offers benefits for retention and is often the preferred format for process or procedures that need to be seen to be understood. Passivity, the longstanding weak point of video, is now being overcome as video incorporates interactive elements like branching and activities. The modern video also tends to be very short, often existing as a segment of microlearning.

7. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR)

In virtual reality (VR), the learner is immersed in a simulated, 3-dimensional environment, while augmented reality (AR) involves adding a digital element to the learner's actual environment. Mixed reality (MR), the most recent addition to this group, "is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time."

These various realities are the latest evolution of the branching scenario and scenario game. They offer the opportunity to practice skills that are high-risk, complex or require costly setup in a safe environment. Unfortunately, these technologies can themselves be quite expensive. AR will probably be the first to achieve more widespread application since the learner can access it with only a phone. That's right, AR's often another form of mLearning.

8. Social and Collaborative Learning

Social learning is learning gained from interacting with, observing, and imitating other people. Its cousin, collaborative learning, "involves groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product."

Social and collaborative learning are unavoidable. Then happen whenever people are together or engage in teamwork. The wise learning developer acknowledges their ubiquitous presence and makes an effort to guide and profit from them.

Social and collaborative elements can be incorporated into standard eLearning modules. They can also form the basis for learning content, such as when employees work together to generate a corporate wiki.

9. Content Curation

Content curation involves going through the material you already have and organizing it into a coherent content library that learners can access. Once everything is assembled, learning developers can focus their efforts on filling any gaps.

Content curation involves many modern eLearning trends:

  • Microlearning: Much of what is found will be quick answers and short documents
  • mLearning: Content should be accessible on mobile devices
  • Personalized Learning: Learners access a content library when they choose it to meet personal needs
  • Video Learning: Short videos provided by L&D are welcome components in a content library
  • Artificial Intelligence: AI can play a role both in identifying and prioritizing material for the library and helping learners navigate it

10. Artificial Intelligence

AI has been an eLearning trend for several years now. At first, we had only the vaguest ideas of how it would be used. We now have a clearer idea of what AI is going to do for us:

  • Chatbot: Answering learner questions and directing them to other learning material
  • Assessor: Both assessing learner knowledge for certifications and other completion markers and for developing adaptive learner pathways
  • Curator: Assessing and organizing learning content and reference materials for easy access

AI has the potential to be revolutionary, but implementation requires care. In the excitement over what AI can offer, I think the learning community risks neglecting its greatest drawback: what are the ethical implications of using AI? AI algorithms are poorly understood, yet we're expecting them to make decisions that will affect career opportunities over a lifetime. Is a learner competent? What subject should an employee focus their studies on?

The Big Picture

We've covered my top ten eLearning trends and even some of their interrelations, but how will it all fit together? Here's the future as I see it:

You decide there's something you need to learn, so you pull up an AI-based chatbot and ask your question. The bot processes what it knows about you and what it knows about your issue and points you to a resource. It could be a brief (micro-sized) interactive video that plays through your mobile app, or it could be a handy document your co-worker wrote up that was trawled from the intranet by an AI content curator.

If your question was more complicated or in-depth, you might be presented with a brief test or survey that assesses your existing knowledge or skill level before pointing you to an appropriate online course featuring collaborative assignments or scenario games.

Once you've worked your way through your resource and completed an AI-assessed evaluation, you're awarded fifty points, which bumps you up two spots on the learning leaderboard.


This article has reviewed the benefits and drawbacks of the ten top eLearning trends. Then I took a moment to look at how they might come together in the future. What do you think of my vision of the future? How are we going to handle the ethics of artificial intelligence?

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Jill W.

Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.